Companies That Were Involved With Nazi Germany

Updated on January 18, 2019
Mamsa profile image

I am an actor, comedian, writer, teacher, historian and businessman. I'm currently studying at the Open University.

Volkswagen

Herbie, complete with Hitler moustache
Herbie, complete with Hitler moustache

Probably the most well known of today's Nazi hand-me-downs, the Volkswagen type-one, to give it its proper name, succeeded where the Nazi's didn't in invading Britain and becoming one of the most popular cars of the post-war era.

The idea of a "people's car" (Volkswagen) was actually conceived by Hitler himself who wanted a cheap family car for the new German road system. After several prototypes, the design was finalised by Ferdinand Porsche in 1938. However, mass production was halted when the war began the following year and only a handful were made before 1945, mostly for the Nazi elite.

The factory in Wolfsburg, Saxony was bombed during the war and after the German surrender, British army officer Ivan Hirst took control of the factory and persuaded the military top brass to use it to produce cars for the army. This was a success and Hirst began exporting to the Netherlands, appointing former Opel boss Heinz Nordhoff as director. The rest is history, and until the 1970's, what has become known as the Volkswagen Beetle was one of the best-selling cars in the world. The last Beetle was produced in Mexico in 2003.


Siemens

Siemens can leave a nasty taste in the mouth
Siemens can leave a nasty taste in the mouth

Siemens was created as Telegraphen-Bauanstalt Von Siemens and Halske by expert industrialists and inventors Werner Von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske with their improvement on the telegraph system, using a needle to point to letters instead of the standard Morse Code. Subsequent improvements on dynamos led the company to expand into light-bulbs, infrastructure such as trains and street lighting as well as domestic electrical devices, and under several different incarnations, mergers and name changes, Siemens became synonymous with electrical technology. Today it is one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world.

With the rise of the Nazis, Siemens received a huge amount of confiscated Jewish properties and buildings at knockdown prices. During World War II, they owned factories in both Ravensbruck and Auschwitz concentration camps where they exploited the forced slave labour of the inmates. Death and malnutrition were common in these plants. Siemens also manufactured and supplied electrical goods and components to other concentration camps, run in conjunction with the SS and high ranking company officials. Interestingly, before the war, one of the company directors, John Rabe, although a fervent Nazi party member, was instrumental in saving the lives of many Chinese civilians during the Nanking Massacre by the Japanese invading army in 1937-8.


Fanta

Nazi-Cola
Nazi-Cola

Fanta was invented to get around a trade embargo against Nazi Germany during the war. Imports of Coca-Cola from the USA were verboten, so the head of Coca-Cola Deutschland decided to create a new drink using apple pomace and other ingredients available in Germany during the war. After a brainstorming session in which the board were told to use their imagination (fantasie in German) to come up with a name, someone suggested "Fanta" and it stuck.

Fanta was also produced and sold in the Netherlands under the same name but with different ingredients. However, when the two franchises were reunited with their parent company after the war, Fanta ceased to be. After rivals Pepsi launched several new products in the 1950's, Coke retaliated by relaunching Fanta with a new recipe in 1955 and it has been a staple in the refrigerated cabinet in the local shop ever since.

In Germany in 2015, a 75th anniversary version was released in glass bottles with "an authentic wartime flavour". A rather ill-thought out advertising campaign claimed it wanted "to bring back the feeling of the good old times". After a barage of complaints regarding the implications of this, the ad was abandoned.


Bayer, BASF, AGFA and the rest of IG Farben's subsidiaries

The heart of the Final Solution
The heart of the Final Solution

IG Farben was a chemical conglomerate featuring the companies listed in the picture above, most famously Bayer, the manufacturers of aspirin, who in the late 1890's marketed a "non-addictive" cough syrup under the brand-name "Heroin". Originally a third of the board was Jewish but with the rise of the Nazis, a process of Aryanisation was implemented. IG Farben became the largest donor to the Nazi party contributing enormously to Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in 1933.

It is widely accepted that without IG Farben's wealth and resources, the Nazi's wouldn't have been in a position to start World War II. Their factory in Auschwitz used slave labour from the camp and produced the Zyklon B gas that killed around 1.1 million in the Birkenau gas chambers. The company was also complicit in experiments using prisoners as guinea pigs. Only a handful survived.

As the tide of war turned against Germany, the company began destroying its records. In 1945, the American army seized its headquarters in Frankfurt and in 1947, 24 directors of IG Farben were put on trial. 13 of them were found guilty receiving sentences ranging from 18 months to 8 years though these were heavily commuted and some went back to work as executives. Although put into liquidation in the 1950's, IG Farben officially still exists as a company in liquidation. Bayer, AGFA and BASF are still in existence independently, the latter being the largest chemical company in the world, while Kalle is a market leader in the sausage casing industry. The IG Farben building now belongs to the University of Frankfurt.


Hugo Boss

Still want to wear that expensive suit?
Still want to wear that expensive suit?

Originally a manufacturer of domestic and sports clothes, Hugo Boss went bankrupt as the recession hit Germany, but after joining the Nazi party in 1931, he obtained a lucrative contract to produce uniforms for the Wehrmacht, the Hitler Youth and later, the SS, though contrary to popular belief, he wasn't responsible for designing the black SS uniform. As business boomed, he became a major contributor to party funds.

During World War II, Boss employed many slave labourers and POW's in his factory. Conditions were harsh and workers were often sent on to their deaths at Birkenau and other camps. The post-war de-Nazification of Germany saw Boss stripped of his voting rights and fined heavily. Upon appeal, Boss was labelled a follower, a less severe category. However, he was banned from running a business and Boss's son-in-law took over the reigns of the company.

Today, Hugo Boss is a major international fashion and perfume brand. Boss himself died of a tooth abcess in 1948, and in 2011, the company issued a statement of "profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Boss under National Socialist rule".

Ford, Deutschland

Go further(land)
Go further(land)

While the mutual admiration between Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler is common knowledge today, what is less well known is that although they were not required to by the Nazi regime, Ford Deutschland were complicit in using slave labour. This began before American involvement in the war, and so had not separated from its American owners.

After the city of Rostov in Soviet Russia was occupied by the Nazis, many Russian civilians were transported to Germany and forced to work in the Ford plant in Wuppertal. In 1998, Elsa Iwanowa, one of the forced labourers filed a lawsuit against Ford. Though the case was dismissed, several German companies, including Opel, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Kodak and many other German companies or franchises who had also been complicit in using slave labour during the war years agreed to pay $5.1bn compensation to the victims who were still alive. Ford refused until their reputation was dragged through the mud and in 2000, they finally agreed to pay $13m to the fund.

IBM (Dehomag)

The Big Brother of Nazi Germany
The Big Brother of Nazi Germany

IBM subsidiary Dehomag used punched card technology for recording and tabulating data and was a major player in the holocaust. The technology itself dated back two centuries and is still used in traditional pianola rolls. This was the standard way data was recorded across the world before the computer age and IBM were at the cutting edge of this technology.

IBM Dehomag enabled the Gestapo to search census databases for Jews, communists and dissidents in every country that fell under Nazi occupation. During the war, IBM New York set up a subsidiary in Poland near the Warsaw ghetto to deal with the railway traffic to the concentration and death camps. One of its administrators claimed they knew the machines weren't German as the labels were in English. Profits were laundered through Geneva and were funneled back to New York.

After the war, IBM were accused of complicity in the holocaust but many of the records had gone missing and to this day, IBM has neither admitted nor apologised for its role in the Second World War.

Questions & Answers

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      • Mamsa profile imageAUTHOR

        DJ Hurst 

        5 months ago from London

        Thanks Liz.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        5 months ago from UK

        This is a fascinating article. I had heard of the VW and Siemens links before, but not the others. I was especially surprised by Ford. As time goes by and the number of people alive during World War II gradually reduces, I guess our memories shorten and these links get overlooked.

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